Post-Brexit commentary so clearly sought to define us as a ‘nation divided’ – young v old; rich v poor; educated v uneducated. Instead of looking at what we can do to engage more young people, we’re experiencing a culture of blame.
But contrary to views that young people aren’t bothered about politics, what we’re actually seeing on the ground in the university environment are young people who care very deeply about the world they live in. They’re young people who believe they have a role to play in shaping the future, making sense of the divisions and playing a part in bringing people together.
Since the introduction of our new International Relations and Politics course at Northumbria University, we’ve seen significant demand for places. I think young people are curious about people and the world around them, and imagine new ways of living peacefully and democratically. They’ve seen the legacy of what’s happened in Iraq, they’re living through a significant period of change after the EU Referendum, and I believe we’re seeing a shifting dynamic emerging.
At Northumbria our students can study a range of topics, from Chinese politics, to civil society, genocide and women in politics, but we encourage our students to engage with two core themes that run through the course and explore them from different angles: One is the question of democracy, whether it matters today or whether there are alternatives to engage. The other is the question of war, conflict and security, which asks the question of when, how and whether we should respond to conflict around the world and whether there are other ways of thinking about security?
We want to instil a belief in our students that they can become active citizens who have a right to challenge politicians and the system and stand up for their values, helping to shape decisions in the future.
While people typically think universities attract more ‘left-wing’ students, we’re seeing students from across the political spectrum, from the very left, to centre ground, through to more right-wing politics.
The discussions we’re having are lively and our students are given the opportunity to air their views and challenge each other in a safe and encouraging environment.
The introduction of our new degree course is a response to the changing political environment and the importance of having a global outlook. It’s important we’re thinking beyond traditional policy analysis to address real world problems. We have to be forward-thinking in our approach. I think current political events are energising young people and making them want to become more involved in politics.
Our graduates go onto a wide variety of careers after university. Many do end up in politics, or the civil service. We’ve had MPs, MEPs and cabinet ministers as Northumbria graduates. We’ve also had graduates who work for MPs as researchers or campaign assistants. Others go into management; some to journalism. Ours isn’t a vocational degree as such, there’s not one set path you must follow.
The only thing we can say with some degree of certainty is that whatever career our students go onto, they have learned not to just accept things on face value. They ask questions, they’re more aware of the world and they have an opportunity to take an active role in shaping decisions.
While I believe the criticism on young people is a little harsh and unfounded, I also believe young people have a pivotal role to play in the future of politics and international relations so if it inspires a few more to get involved – that can only be a positive thing.
Northumbria University’s International Relations and Politics degree is a new course for 2016. For more information, visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/IRpolitics
Northumbria University has a limited number of places available for high quality students through Clearing this summer. For more information, visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/clearing or call the Clearing Hotline on 0800 085 1085.